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How likely is Theresa May’s “short extension” and what would it mean for Brexit?

The EU27 are themselves torn over how best to approach the transition question.

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Theresa May will write to the European Commission seeking an extension – but only a short one, following a cabinet revolt about the potential consequences for the Conservative Party in the event of a prolonged transition.

The prospect of an extended transition worries the majority of Conservative MPs, with some fearing the electoral consequences and others that it will lead to Brexit being blocked. But there is in all likelihood a majority in parliament for it, so that MPs can take control of the Brexit process and negotiate the terms for Britain's exit, rather than letting the executive do it.

But the length of any transition exposed isn't within the gift of the cabinet or even parliament; it is subject to veto from any of the other 27 nations of the European Union. A household cannot merely negotiate with itself about whether or not to go into its overdraft – it has to negotiate that facility with a bank. And while it is not in the interests of a bank for any one of its customers to go bust – just as it is not in the interests of the rest of the EU27 to have a no-deal Brexit – the consequences of bankruptcy (or indeed of a no-deal Brexit) are much more sharply felt by the party seeking the overdraft.  

The EU27 are themselves torn over how best to approach the transition question. They know the period agreed has to be long enough for something to change at Westminster, but they note that MPs have been unwilling to seize and wield power for themselves, and that a fresh election may not settle the issue either. So what to do? As fas as diverting as the row within the cabinet, the Conservative Party, and parliament is concerned, it will ultimately come down to whether there is a majority to be found in the House of Commons for a take-it-or-leave-it offer from the EU27, or, if not, if there is a majority to be found for May's deal to prevent it.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Warren’s support for a reparations committee may be politically shaky, but the moral case is solid

It’s unlikely to be a vote-winner for the 2020 candidate, but it’s started a conversation that’s long overdue.

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In a town hall on 17 March, the Massachusetts senator and 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren said that she would support the creation of a commission to study reparations for the descendants of slaves and examine ways in which the government could redress, perhaps through financial compensation, the long and harmful legacy of slavery and racism in the US.

She is not the first 2020 presidential candidate to call for a reparations commission – the long-shot candidate and former housing and urban development secretary Julian Castro also lent his support for a similar commission earlier this year. Californian senator Kamala Harris has expressed an interest in exploring reparations, too, though her public comments on the issue are often vague.

Warren declined to say whether she supported financial reparations, but her clear commitment to a government study into reparations is a significant development – not least because it could push other candidates to follow suit.

John Conyers, who served as the Democratic representative for Detroit between 1965 and 2017, first introduced the HR-40 bill, which would study the effects of slavery and examine possible remedies, in 1989. He reintroduced it every Congress after that, but it never made the House floor.

Conyers’ ideas were given a new boost in 2014, when the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates published his masterful essay on “The Case for Reparations” in the Atlantic magazine, which went viral. He writes:

Scholars have long discussed methods by which America might make reparations to those on whose labor and exclusion the country was built. In the 1970s, the Yale Law professor Boris Bittker argued in The Case for Black Reparations that a rough price tag for reparations could be determined by multiplying the number of African Americans in the population by the difference in white and black per capita income. That number—$34 billion in 1973, when Bittker wrote his book—could be added to a reparations program each year for a decade or two. Today Charles Ogletree, the Harvard Law School professor, argues for something broader: a program of job training and public works that takes racial justice as its mission but includes the poor of all races.

To celebrate freedom and democracy while forgetting America’s origins in a slavery economy is patriotism à la carte.

Perhaps no statistic better illustrates the enduring legacy of our country’s shameful history of treating black people as sub-citizens, sub-Americans, and sub-humans than the wealth gap. Reparations would seek to close this chasm. But as surely as the creation of the wealth gap required the cooperation of every aspect of the society, bridging it will require the same.

Perhaps after a serious discussion and debate—the kind that HR 40 proposes—we may find that the country can never fully repay African Americans. But we stand to discover much about ourselves in such a discussion—and that is perhaps what scares us. The idea of reparations is frightening not simply because we might lack the ability to pay. The idea of reparations threatens something much deeper—America’s heritage, history, and standing in the world.

Coates’ essay reveals not only the compelling moral case for studying reparations – the process of doing so may come to matter as much as the reports’ final conclusions – but also highlights the political risk involved.

Reparations are not a popular idea: two 2018 polls suggest only around a quarter of Americans would support the payment of financial reparations. Resurgent interest in reparations is likely to fire-up fierce attacks from the right, as well as considerable infighting on the left. Writing in Esquire, Ryan Lizza expressed concern that support for reparations was becoming a new and damaging test of political wokeness:

A lot of candidates—not to mention voters and commentators and journalists—are going to make mistakes navigating the party's new politics of race, gender, and class. (Personally I side with the reparations advocates that at the very least a Conyers-like study of the issue is long overdue.) But I can’t think of a worse development for Democrats than if reparations, an enormously controversial and politically untested issue, turns into yet another purity test for the party.

It's worth remembering, however, that a commitment to studying reparations policies is not the same as a commitment to paying financial reparations. As Coates points out, it may be that the commission concludes that no payment can redress the historic injustices suffered by black Americans.

It also strikes me as hard for any politician on the left to make a convincing moral case for refusing to even look into the subject of reparations. Warren’s proposals will likely force more candidates to confront the long-simmering question of reparations and formulate a response. It may not be a huge vote-winner for Warren, but one cannot help but feel that this conversation is long overdue.

Sophie McBain is North America correspondent for the New Statesman. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

Anyone who cares about sexism should boycott Good Morning Britain and Piers Morgan’s clickbait debates

 I am not going to stop talking about this. But I will not engage with liars and bullies.

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This post first appeared on the author’s Facebook page.

Thank you everyone who has sent good wishes and solidarity following the recent threats I have received from speaking out against male violence. I’m fine, thank you.

I would however at this point like to invite other public figures not to accept invitations from British television show Good Morning Britain. In my experience they do not look after their guests, especially women, and they are not honest about what arrangements to speak entail.

After inviting me on Monday to debate male violence and terrorism with Christopher Muwanguzi they cancelled at the last minute. Then a senior producer called me later on Monday, asked me to come on Tuesday and offered me the choice of debating either Toby Young or Edward Adoo.

I believed them when they offered me a choice. I said I didn’t want to debate Toby because he’s a clickbait commentator whose dog whistles attract abusive far-right trolls and I had already had a weekend of dealing with a torrent of abuse in part because Piers had tweeted on Friday that I was a “pathetic creature”; but I agreed to debate Edward, who disagrees with me but also campaigns against knife crime.

I also said I would not do it unless GMB paid for early morning childcare, as I’d had to make and undo expensive arrangements once already after they cancelled the first time; and I checked with the same producer that GMB understood their duty of care to me and had security arrangements at the studio. The senior producer agreed to all of this and apologised that I had been targeted.

Early on Tuesday evening I then received a short phone call from another producer to say they had cancelled again but without saying why. Shortly afterwards Piers tweeted that I had refused to debate Toby (and “run away”) so the show had decided to cancel me. Cue another onslaught of abuse from anti-feminist, far-right trolls among his six million followers.

If the producer had said: to be honest, Piers only wants you to debate his mate Toby because he wants a fight, then I would have known where I stood.

I’m always up for a debate. I am not going to stop talking about this. But I will not engage with liars and bullies. GMB, that now includes you.

Sophie Walker is a feminist activist and founding leader of the Women’s Equality Party.

ITV has been contacted for comment.

Sophie Walker is leader of the Women's Equality Party.

Momentum has begun campaigning to unseat TIG MPs

Activists were campaigning for a by-election in Streatham last weekend to unseat Chuka Umunna. 

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Momentum activists were out in Streatham last weekend calling on Chuka Umunna to trigger a by-election, as part of a national campaign to unseat MPs who have defected to the Independent Group.

Around 100 people gathered at the corner opposite Streatham Memorial Gardens on a grey and windy Saturday. Some were local. Others had travelled in from further afield, including Hackney, Islington, Bexley, Mitcham, and Dulwich. They were welcomed by rallying speeches from Diane Abbott, Owen Jones and Ash Sarkar. “I’ve come all the way down from the People’s Republic of Hackney,” Abbott said, “because you seem to have mislaid your Labour MP.”

Umunna was among seven MPs who left Labour to form TIG last month. Councillors in Streatham say that his defection was a long time coming, though he never made it explicit to local members. But they worry it could be jarring to voters that Labour activists are now campaigning to unseat him, when not long ago they were on the streets and doorsteps singing his praises in the 2017 general election.

There is speculation that Umunna could stand and win again in Streatham, the area that he grew up in and has represented since 2010. But others think that accounts of his personal appeal are overstated. After addressing the event, Abbott told the NS: “It’s a mistake for Chuka to think he has some huge personal vote. The community here in south London is a Labour-voting community.”

Out on the doorstep, Momentum canvassers sang from the same sheet. “Chuka has changed his mind. Now his voters should be allowed to change theirs,” they reasoned with voters. “If he supports a People’s Vote, he should hold one in his constituency.” They asked Streatham residents to sign a petition calling for a by-election.

The response was broadly positive. Many people reacted with surprise upon hearing that their MP had quit Labour. One resident, Oneal, 37, said of Umunna: “I like him, He’s someone I get on with personally. But [Momentum] have a point. If he’s left Labour, we should have another election.” He was sceptical of the idea of a new party. “What’s gonna come of it? What effect will they have?”

But the reasons for which people signed Momentum’s petition for a by-election were varied. Many used it as an outlet to express their own personal political grievances. Syed Shah, 30, an accountant, said he supported it because of the uncertainty the government has caused for business over Brexit. Maria, 28, a sales assistant, said she’d never voted before but wants “better healthcare, better education”. A third voter with a pushchair said he signed in protest of the closure of local children’s centres. These are issues that won’t be solved by a change of MP, but by a change of government.

Momentum is now planning similar campaigning days in Stockport and Penistone and Stockbridge, represented by Ann Coffey and Angela Smith respectively, both of whom left Labour for TIG. Momentum spokesperson Becky Boumelha said that they stood on a Labour manifesto, and that “to abandon those policies and not give the voters another say is obviously unfair and undemocratic.”

But for now, the only by-election certain to take place is on 4 April in Newport West. In the contest to succeed Paul Flynn, who died last month, Labour will be defending a majority of 5,658.

Eleni Courea writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2018.

Who gets to survive climate change?

As the waters rise, the rich are readying their arks to escape oncoming environmental crisis. 

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In November, as wildfires ripped through California, Kim Kardashian hired a squad of private firefighters to protect her $50m estate in Calabasas. During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Blackwater security guards defended the houses of the hyper rich against feared hordes of looters while their occupants were quietly helicoptered to safety.

Elsewhere, the hyper rich make plans to flee the planet altogether. From Elon Musk’s SpaceX programme to the would-be citizens of space-based micro nation Asgardia, venture capitalist space exploration is being packaged as humanity’s pioneering attempt to save itself from destruction.

These are not anomalies. Private insurance companies like AIG and Chubb have boasted about their increased provisions against the rapidly increasing numbers of natural disasters like wildfires. Others are scrambling to offset their exposure to the gathering effects of climate chaos. As the waters rise, the rich are readying their arks – quietly preparing themselves for climate chaos. If history teaches us anything, it’s that elites build their castles high above the filth.

A common joke rears its head when climate change is mentioned. Another planet asks a sickly earth what is wrong with it. The answer? “I have humans”. It’s a humorous sentiment – but no less dangerous for it. This vision of climate change is bound up with a cynical picture that paints humanity as inherently parasitic, doomed to destroy any ecosystem unlucky enough to host it.

The joke leaves a lingering paranoia that we, as humanity, somehow deserve climate change. That it is some kind of collective punishment for a historic cavalcade of transgressions – leaving lights turned on and taps running, blithely allowing waste to pile up and oil to spill into oceans.

Climate change is, according to this analysis, a moral problem; we have failed to overcome our own natures, to stem the ecological effects of our original sinfulness. This picture sees each of us tasked with a responsibility to reform our wastefulness and destruction. Recycle. Walk to work. Use a refillable water bottle. In Malthusian terms, the solution is to stem the flow of humanity altogether. If people are the problem, we must make fewer people.

This idea is reflected in the language used to describe our uncertain geological era: anthropo-cene. An age of mankind that has fundamentally corrupted the earth, choking the oceans with trash, sedimenting the soil with a vast crust of discarded chicken bones, clogging our bloodstreams with microparticles of plastic.

But in truth, humans are not the problem. The problem is a particular way of arranging humanity’s relationship to the rest of the natural world, in a system focused on ceaseless resource extraction and hydrocarbon consumption in order to funnel wealth and power into the hands of a select few. It’s more commonly known as capitalism.

A small handful of companies are responsible for the overwhelming majority of fossil fuel emissions. Their effects are visited worst upon the poor. Repeated studies have shown that the global poor – left without stockpiles, without armies of private firefighters – are the most exposed to the immediate effects of climate change. If capitalism’s accumulated wealth does not successfully trickle down, its climate miseries certainly do.

It is easy to be amazed at the stubbornness of UK legislators who, after decades of scientific consensus on the dangers of fossil fuels, refute any serious reckoning with the fossil fuel complex. The current administration has embraced fracking with open arms. The Global Warming Policy Foundation, an alleged hub of climate denial, has deepened links with right-wing organisations trying to seize hold of Brexit, determined to roll out a free trade deal that would be reliably disastrous for environmental legislation.

The deadly bullheadedness of climate change denial prompts many to double down on education, treating climate denial as a menace to be bludgeoned into submission by the brute force of facts. It’s an understandable instinct. But oil giants don’t need educating. For years, ExxonMobil covered up its own research that revealed the risks posed by fossil fuel emissions. Its former CEO Rex Tillerson served as US Secretary of State, assisting the Trump administration as it tore up climate accords.

At its root, elite denial isn’t a result of ignorance or suspended disbelief. Concentrated wealth warps perceptions of crisis and immunises elites against the practical and psychological threats of catastrophe. They are convinced of their own ability to survive the apocalypse: cataclysm is a preoccupation of the poor. 

As French philosopher Bruno Latour writes, once elites recognised the reality of climate change, they set to work building a “gilded fortress” for the small percentage of people who could afford to make it through.

“What counts above all for the elites... is no longer having to share with the others a world that they know will never again be a common world”, he adds. 

Even those who publicly acknowledge the existential threat of climate change seem hypnotised by a mythology of resilience – the idea that however doomed our current civilisation might be, “we” can still cling on. Praising the benefits of outer-space settlements, Elon Musk said: “We want to make sure there's enough of a seed of human civilisation somewhere else to bring civilisation back, and perhaps to shorten the length of the Dark Ages.”

Musk has previously called fossil fuels “the dumbest experiment in history.” Take him at his word and one might assume he would be committed to their abolition. Yet he still donates to the Republican Party, which is chock full of climate deniers and can be relied upon to defend the interests of business, if not the planet in which business takes place.

The mystic “we” tasked with outlasting climate change always seems to include those who can afford bunkers, boats and rocket ships to Mars. Rarely does it include the millions of people already on the run from droughts, floods and storms. We can’t chance our collective survival on the shaky inspirations of the mega-wealthy who consider themselves exempt from a shared future on earth. 

Eleanor Penny is a writer and editor at Novara Media and Red Pepper Magazine. 

For the love of god, JK Rowling, write that Dumbledore/Grindelwald slash fic you keep teasing

Gay literary revisionism could be a whole new movement, just as long as its participants don’t claim to be woke.

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When JK Rowling revealed recently that – beyond the pages of anything she’s ever actually written – her characters Dumbledore and Grindelwald had an “incredibly intense” sexual relationship, the internet responded exactly as you’d expect and made a meme about her “fake woke additions” to the Harry Potter universe. Rowling had already famously outed Dumbledore as gay, without there having been a single direct reference to the character’s sexuality in any of her novels. This led to even more controversy when the makers of the Fantastic Beasts film series decided not to portray the character as gay, even after his creator had – for want of a better word – “chosen” this sexuality for him.

Since hot Dumblewald (that’s their couple’s portmanteau) sex was spoken into existence, alongside some pretty funny tweets about how Hagrid is a furry and Fred and George Weasley spit roasted a house elf and whatnot, many have made the more serious point that it would’ve been nice for Rowling to have included queer characters in her actual books. So, you know, LGBTQ kids reading them could’ve benefitted from the representation. This certainly would’ve been a real kick against Section 28 – a law banning the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities and in schools – under which the first four books of the Harry Potter series were written.

And sure, Rowling could have written in gay wizards and not tried to claim retrospective allyship with LGBTQ people. But by effectively doing fanfic of her own… fic, she’s opened the floodgates for all living children’s authors to do the same, and wouldn’t that be kind of fun at least? Maybe Eric Carle could reveal that the Very Hungry Caterpillar was “very hungry” for dick. Or Judith Kerr could let us all know that “tea” isn’t the only thing The Tiger came for. Gay literary revisionism could be a whole new movement, just as long as its participants don’t claim to be woke or anything.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be limited to living authors, either. Could the Blyton Estate, for example, decide that the Famous Five grew up to be a sort of queer poly collective? It was inevitable, to be honest. And don’t get me started on the Secret Seven who – if I’m allowed to speak for Enid Blyton – are now living in a squat in Deptford and making art about the fascistic restraints of the gender binary and monogamy.

One challenge though, that I’d like to extend to JK Rowling in particular (and JK, in the unlikely event that you’re reading this… hi, it’s an honour, I’m a fan) is to put her money (so, so, so much money) where her mouth is and write that Dumbledore/Grindelwald slash (slash is erotic fanfic for anyone who wasn’t as dorky a teenager as I was). You’re a writer, JK, and writers – so I have been told – write. What in the known universe could be stopping an author who’s so keen on us all knowing two of her characters were boning from bringing that situation to life? Do it JK, do it for the gays like me who grew up reading your books and missing out on that sweet Dumbledore action.

And while we’re at it, Hermione/Ginny… that happened right?

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist.

Will the EU grant the UK an Article 50 extension?

EU governments want the UK to have a clear plan for how it would use the delay, and it can’t simply be to resolve MPs’ concerns with the backstop.

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On Thursday, Theresa May will go to Brussels to request an extension to Article 50 and give the UK more time to decide what it wants.

But an Article 50 extension is not in the powers of European Commission officials in Brussels. It’s a decision that must be taken unanimously by the governments of all 28 EU member states.

Diplomats are stressing that leaders will grant an extension only if there is a clear plan for how it will be used. The EU has made it explicit that it won’t hand over more time to simply continue the fruitless back-and-forth over the backstop. As far as it’s concerned, the exit deal is done and dusted, and it’s the only one currently on the table.

The question that remains is what EU countries would accept as “a clear plan” for a delay. There are some things we know would certainly qualify, such as a second referendum or a general election. Alternatively, if a clear majority of MPs came out in favour of a different kind of Brexit deal – such as one that included membership of a customs union – EU governments are likely to grant the time that’s needed for that to be negotiated. One thing that diplomats are emphasising now is that if the UK sought a long Article 50 extension past July, it would have to hold European Parliament elections in May. 

But beyond that, no one knows what will happen when 28 EU heads of government gather around the table on Thursday evening. It depends on what plan Theresa May lays out for the extension – if any. And it depends on the national political considerations that other EU countries have to make. Individual leaders could throw a spanner in the works. French president Emmanuel Macron has said he would demand tough conditions for a long delay; Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez, who is facing a general election next month, could see this as the opportune moment to demand concessions on Gibraltar. If there were just one or two dissenting voices, they would more easily be pressured into granting the delay than a larger block of opponents would.

So ultimately, no one yet knows what will fulfil the requirement of “a clear plan” for all 27 EU leaders. It’s much like John Bercow’s ruling yesterday that the government can’t bring back its Brexit deal unless there has been some “meaningful change” to it. What will end up constituting “meaningful change” is up to him, and attempts to predict it are little more than guesswork .

Eleni Courea writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2018.

Our enduring obsession with Madeleine McCann shows how class shapes public attention

I used to marvel at the scale of the case and wonder how it could be treated so differently to the thousands of incidents where children go missing.

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The Netflix Madeleine McCann documentary series aired last week to near-universal negative reviews. The consensus was that it reveals no new information, is nothing more than an exploitatively constructed, salacious re-telling, and is a typically bloated addition to the streaming service’s lucrative true crime collection.

Despite the documentary’s lack of new insights, the tabloids took its release as an opportunity to rehash old theories and hypotheses. The three year old child “could have been snatched by a sex beast wearing a medical mask” screamed one headline, accompanied by a picture of the event’s reconstruction taken from the Netflix documentary – a ludicrous, manipulative picture that made me relieved I had chosen not to watch the show.

Many newspapers will take almost any opportunity to rerun the old lists of facts and half-baked conspiracy theories that were published at the time, and most importantly, the pictures; that ubiquitous close-up photograph of Madeleine’s face with a distinctive defect in the iris of one eye. Since her disappearance in 2007 a certain kind of publication will publish that photograph as often as it can, knowing the image has retained its ability to move and worry readers.

Like the grainy CCTV picture of James Bulger being led away in Merseyside in 1993, Madeleine’s photograph became the talisman for a national obsession. The marked disproportion of media and public attention that the case received became self-perpetuating; the question became not only of a missing child, but of how a child could possibly remain missing after so many years, with the attention of half the world fixed upon her.

I used to marvel at the scale of the case and wonder how it could be treated so differently to the thousands of incidents each year in the UK where children go missing. That Madeleine was beautiful and white and blonde – a caricature of what society decides innocence looks like – was surely relevant.

Important, too, was the fact that her parents were sophisticated people with financial resources and the ability to raise press awareness. And, as time has passed, Madeleine’s case was distinguished from others in the worst way possible: unlike the overwhelming majority of children who go missing each year, she has never been found.

Though we may speculate on issues of race and photogenicity and media connections, it is genuinely rare for a small child to go missing, in these particularly panoptic circumstances, and never be seen again.

In cases of famous crimes committed against children, the social class of the parents shape how we absorb the event. It’s true that more than a hundred thousand children go missing each year, but it’s also true that many of them are in care, or come from troubled family backgrounds.

The simple and sad fact is that these children belong to a socioeconomic class we regard (according to how pronounced our prejudices are) as inherently disorderly, and perhaps even as inherently troublesome. It isn’t that the public wishes those children ill, but that their disappearances conform to how society thinks of disadvantaged families: as reckless and readily combustible.

The situation of the McCanns was, of course, very different. The scenario they described on the night of the disappearance had the sound of an enviable, idyllic lifestyle: two doctors and their similarly well-heeled friends on holiday, sharing tapas while their beautiful children slept.

The spectacular dissolution of that kind of lifestyle, compared to the kind that is more typical of a missing child, is disturbing. The idea of people like that losing it all in one wild, unpredictable moment of disaster is a better story. The moral chaos is what keeps it a reliable source of clicks and sales and public engagement.

But as questions of funding arise once again, the obviously inequitable manner in which such decisions are made should be addressed. Operation Grange has cost upwards of £11.5m already, and parents of less newsworthy missing children rightly point out the enormous gulf between the resources allocated to the McCanns and others.

We can’t control which stories will seize public attention and media interest, but it seems clearly wrong to be led by that metric when deciding how to allocate police resources. That familiar image of her face, one of pure, open potential, will likely continue compelling the nation until the knowledge of what became of her transpires.

Though we can puzzle over what makes Madeleine’s case so enduringly interesting, there is no good case to be made that her recovery is more valuable than that of another child.

Megan Nolan is a writer of essays, criticism and fiction born in Ireland and based in London. She writes a fortnightly column for the New Statesman.

A sex scandal corrupts K-pop’s wholesome image

The ramifications of a recent South Korean sex scandal go far beyond exposing the fissures in K-pop’s carefully constructed brand. 

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How should you respond if an artist you once loved isn’t the person you thought they were? An ongoing investigation in South Korea has triggered this dilemma for K-pop fans around the world. Seungri, 28, a member of the influential K-pop group Big Bang, and Jung Joon-young, 30, a popular singer-songwriter and television host, are among those implicated in a series of connected sex scandals that have roiled the K-pop fandom.

The scandal sits in stark contrast to the K-pop industry’s wholesome public image. The branding of boy bands has long been tightly controlled, but K-pop takes image management to new levels; aspiring K-pop stars (“idols”) apply and compete as pre-teens for places in special training schools. Public romantic relationships are unusual if not contractually forbidden. South Korea’s comparably conservative public sphere limits thematic references to sex, drugs, or alcohol in K-pop songs.

Seungri, one of K-pops most prominent stars, was arrested on suspicion of providing “drug-addled” prostitutes to high-powered businessmen in Seoul nightclubs. An investigation into his text messages linked Jung and nearly a dozen participants to a group message sharing secretly-recorded videos depicting the sexual assault of drugged and unconscious women. Both have since announced their retirement from the entertainment industry, and shares in Seungri’s management company, YG Entertainment, have plummeted.

The scandal magnifies the proliferation of hidden camera porn in South Korea — an issue which drove 22,000 women to the streets last June in the largest women’s demonstration in the nation’s history. Known as molka, meaning “spycam”, hidden camera porn has become an increasingly visible issue in South Korea, as the distribution of footage from secret, tiny cameras — often depicting women in sexual or intimate circumstances without their consent — has grown in recent years. From 2013 to 2017, police estimate nearly 6,000 cases of spycam porn each year.

But for now, all eyes are on the well-oiled K-pop machine. Seungri’s involvement in the sex scandal has made headlines internationally. He is the youngest member of Big Bang, having spent 13 years in the spotlight after debuting with the group in 2006, aged 15. He is beloved by fans for his humour, energy, and extroversion. Yet this scandal is not his first. In 2012, Japanese tabloid Friday published shirtless photos of Seungri after a one-night stand, pushing back against the squeaky clean image of K-pop idols.

The ramifications of the recent K-pop scandal go far beyond exposing the fissures in pop’s carefully constructed image. It implicates the star in an intertwining series of serious sex crimes; if charged, Seungri could face up to three years in prison. For many K-pop fans, Seungri’s pedestal has toppled.

The question of how to relate to a beloved artist in the midst of controversy has become a central pop cultural question in 2019. With Seungri and other idols implicated, this challenge is made more complicated by the intensity of the industry’s focus on public image and the moral juxtaposition of the scandal. The investigation and Seungri’s subsequent departure from the group have uprooted fans’ understanding of their idol’s character, and prompted a reorientation of their fandom

As Big Bang fan Karla, 25, notes, the last week was a “stressful” process of negotiating this new reality for Big Bang fans: “Many of us have felt overwhelmed as we grapple with these allegations and attempt to consolidate them with the idol some of us have supported for over ten years.”

Popular music fandom, beyond an enjoyment of music alone, often builds upon a love for and identification with fandom favourites; social media enables a presumed intimacy between fans and idols, allowing fans to feel that they know and understand them.

Whether as a means of escape, comfort, or entertainment, K-pop fandom is a source of joy for millions across the globe. Confronting the crushing reality of these allegations has transformed the nature of how many fans relate to their idol.

“In a cruel twist of circumstances, our source of comfort suddenly became the root of our anguish and stress,” says Karla.

For Pannatic, a 19-year-old translator of K-pop news with over 50,000 followers on Twitter, the scandal hastened a re-evaluation of the entire industry. “Since this case started to see light, I came to realise that the entertainment industry is so much darker than we all think it is,” Pannatic noted. “Everything we see through the TV shows and social media accounts are probably just the tip of the iceberg.”

While the investigation continues, non-Korean speaking fans follow the scandal online, and track translations of the news on Twitter. That other stars may be further implicated in the ongoing investigation is one more twist in a series of turns for heartbroken fans.

“Of course,” as Karla admits, “we don’t really know our idols.”

Allyson Gross is a writer based in Houston, Texas. She tweets @AllysonGross

C S Lewis’s story has already been told: why we don’t need a new Narnia book

There are open fictional worlds, and there are closed ones. Narnia is the latter.

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This is a story about something that happened at the turn of the present century. In those days, Harry Potter was still a schoolboy, and Lyra had only recently witnessed God disintegrating when he was exposed to the merest whiff of reality. The internet was nicer, and as for UK house prices, I won’t tell you how cheap they were because it would only make your mouth water in vain.

The Young Adult fiction market was booming, with every publisher keen to find the next Harry Potter or His Dark Materials. The beauty of children’s publishing, though, is that each generation discovers the classics anew. C S Lewis’s seven Narnia books had been perennial sellers since they were first published in the 1950s, but new readers were now flocking to the series that had been a huge influence on JK Rowling and Philip Pullman. In 2001, the first Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies made their debuts, and Walden Media acquired the rights for a movie version of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe that split the difference, throwing British schoolkids onto a battlefield in a quasi-medieval fantasy world.

The Narnia series, then, was all set to become a modern “franchise”. As part of this, HarperCollins announced new books “using the same characters and with storylines which fill in the gaps of existing ones”. I’d mentioned online how much I’ve always loved the Narnia books, but reading them before I’d had any contact with religion meant I’d always seen Jesus as a disappointing Aslan tribute act. On the back of that remark and Doctor Who novels I’d written, I was invited to pitch for the range. I sent in a very short proposal for a book called Swanwhite and, as is often the way with these things, that was that and I have no idea if it even reached the desk of the relevant editor. No new Narnia books ever materialised.

I’d completely forgotten about this until the weekend, when news spread that the author Francis Spufford has written a Narnia novella, The Stone Table, for his daughter, and that a privately-printed edition of 75 copies has been given out to friends and family. One recipient, the writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce, has put the early chapters up on Twitter, and they’re receiving rave reviews.

I’m a huge fan of Spufford’s work. I May Be Some Time evokes nostalgia, but is also revelatory and unsentimental, a very difficult trick to pull off. Unapologetic is a public declaration of his Christianity, showing his working. Jesus has always been the elephant in the room with Narnia, and while C S  Lewis is a hero to the American Christian right, they put their faith in things he’d barely recognise. A new Narnia book has to be about Christianity, in some way that respects Lewis’s beliefs, but also understands he was writing nearly 70 years ago and he was a crusty old fart even then. Spufford is exactly the right person to square this circle.

That said, I don’t think we need Narnia VIII.

There are open fictional worlds, and there are closed ones. Arthur Conan Doyle quickly realised he’d created the formula for an endless series of Sherlock Holmes stories: more to the point, even during his lifetime, other writers concluded he didn’t have to be the one writing them. Conan Doyle created a serial, not a saga, as did the various creators of Superman, James Bond, and Doctor Who. The task at hand for those who write these new adventures is to create endless variations, balancing fidelity to what’s gone before with modern insights.

Talented writers at the top of their field have written entertaining sequels and prequels for books that are perfectly self-contained, like Pride and Prejudice, The Catcher in the Rye, The Time Machine, and Rebecca. The estates of J R R Tolkien, Frank Herbert and Douglas Adams have actively encouraged selected authors to write continuations. It’s perfectly possible – trivially easy, in fact – to plot routes to every unexplored corner of Pauline Bayne’s beautiful map of Narnia. It could be done.

There’s certainly a formula to the Narnia stories – children from our world coming to Narnia and learning the true meaning of Aslan. But even by the second book, Prince Caspian, Lewis himself was subverting it, with Narnia conquered by human beings, forcing the animals to pretend they can’t talk and the dwarves to hide in plain sight as short people. The fantasy creatures huddle underground, like members of the French Resistance. Lewis’ second Narnia book is an ironic deconstruction of the Narnia formula just as sly as those of Neil Gaiman or Philip Pullman over half a century later.

Lewis went to pains to give the series a beginning, middle and apocalyptic end, retrofitting the first of those (the sixth book published was The Magician’s Nephew, what we’d call a prequel or origin story now), and filling another narrative gap with The Horse and His Boy. There’s a rich cast of characters in the books, but Lewis moved things along, swapping out the schoolchildren protagonists, and building in time jumps that meant that, while the books fit together, it’s only Aslan who appears in all seven books. The net effect is that it feels like Narnia’s whole story has already been told.

The seven Narnia books are the product of a particular person already finding himself at odds with the particular time they were written. The author of the Narnia books wasn’t some interchangeable cog in a smooth running franchise machine. It’s as simple as saying it matters that they were written by C S Lewis.  

Lance Parkin is an author whose books include The Impossible Has Happened: The Life and Work of Gene Roddenberry and Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore.

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